COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Lego has won a landmark case in China against two companies that manufactured and sold toys almost identical to its LEGO Friends range but branded Bela, the Danish toymaker said.
It is the first time that Lego has succeeded in a copyright competition case in China, where copies of its colourful bricks and figures have been a recurrent problem as it seeks to gain share in the $31 billion (£23.1 billion) toys and games market.
Earlier this year, the Beijing Higher Court passed a ruling that recognised the Lego logo and name in Chinese as 'well-known' trademarks in China, putting the toymaker in a better position to act against infringement of its trademarks.
The China Shantou Intermediate People's Court had ruled that "certain Bela products infringed upon the copyrights of the Lego Group and that manufacturing and selling of those products constituted acts of unfair competition", Lego said in a statement on Thursday.
The court also decided that Lego is protected under Chinese "anti-unfair competition law" for "the distinctive and unique appearance of certain decorative aspects of its packaging across particular product lines (in this case, LEGO Friends)"
Capturing the imaginations of Chinese children with its bricks is key to reviving growth for the unlisted company after disappointing revenues in its core U.S. and European markets has brought an end to a decade-long sales boom.
Lego, whose name is derived from the Danish "leg godt" meaning "play well", is competing with Barbie maker Mattel Inc and Hasbro, the firm behind My Little Pony, for a slice of the Chinese market.
The case was filed against two Chinese companies, which had been manufacturing and selling Bela products that were almost identical to Lego's. They will now have to stop copying Lego's packaging and logos, it said.
"We think this is very important for the continued development of a favourable business environment for all companies operating in the Chinese market," Lego's vice president of legal affairs, Peter Thorslund Kjaer said.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; editing by Alexander Smith)